Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Now? Bishops' Edition


As the results of Tuesday’s elections sink in, and bishops’ secretaries double check the flight reservations for their bosses headed to Baltimore for the annual plenary meeting next Monday, the bishops themselves must survey the political landscape and ask themselves how they can best manage the always tricky fault lines between politics and religion in American culture.
First and foremost, the bishops must ask themselves how political engagement does or does not advance the lived communion of Catholics. Bishops are not called to be culture warriors, but shepherds. Bishops are not called to be political surrogates, but pastors. It is difficult enough in this increasingly secular culture to preach the Gospel without tainting that preaching with the kind of aggressive partisanship that was on display in some episcopal pulpits. To be clear, and I think this is important, there were only a handful of bishops who, in the last few weeks, crossed the line. Bishops Jenky, Morlino, Paprocki, Ricken and Sheridan were the exceptions not the rule. But, they garnered the lion’s share of media attention and anyone who knew nothing about the Catholic Church except what they read in the papers would assume that these men were speaking for the whole Church. They were not. Unfortunately, there is no currently acceptable mechanism for other bishops to point this out. They are loathe to criticize one another in public. But, when the bishops go into executive session next week, and the doors to the ballroom at the Baltimore Marriott close, someone on the episcopal bench needs to stand up and make two points. 
First, their outbursts make it much harder for Cardinal Dolan and the other leaders of the USCCB to do their job. They have to work with whoever is elected president and you can forgive the president’s advisors for wondering why they should bother talking with the bishops while some of their number are comparing him to Hitler, others warn that a vote for Obama puts one’s soul in jeopardy, etc. The second question is easier: How’d that work out for you? Bishops Jenky and Paprocki are in Illinois. Bishops Morlino and Ricken are in Wisconsin. Bishop Sheridan is in Colorado. Blue states all. The people in the pews were not listening or, more likely, they thought it was none of the bishops’ business to tell them, in such explicit terms, how they should cast their ballots.
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